A person tending to a false killer whale

Tests conducted with Kina, a false killer whale at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, indicate whales may be able to protect their ears from loud noise.

Whales may be able to protect their ears by lowering their hearing sensitivity when warned of an imminent loud sound, according to research by Paul Nachtigall, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology.

Published earlier this year in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Nachtigall’s research with Alexander Ya Supin of the Russian Academy of Sciences is gaining international attention following an article published on July 16 in The New York Times.

“It’s equivalent to plugging your ears when a jet flies over,” Nachtigall told The New York Times. “It’s like a volume control.”

Though the team has only tested the warning signals with one false killer whale at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology facilities on Coconut Island, the findings are promising and could be used in efforts to help prevent hearing loss in marine mammals.

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